Civility in Community Radio

This article appeared in our January community radio newsletter. Subscribe here.

If you work in community radio or are providing unpaid work in the form of volunteerism, chances are you have seen tension from time to time. Ups and downs are part of the human experience. However, when these difficulties become institutionalized, ferreting them out and creating a more equitable space in service to our mission is not easy. Tackling endemic conflicts has made civility in our space a crucial one in community media.

Incidents of institutionalized problems are widespread. On Dec. 19, New York Public Radio announced longtime CEO Laura Walker would step down in 2019. Walker led the organization’s radio station, WNYC, to phenomenal growth over more than two decades at the helm. However, ugly scandals and allegations she and deputy Dean Cappello looked the other way when abusive behavior drew complaints clouded her final years in at the megastation.

In 2017, news reports surfaced of sexual harassment and abusive behavior by station personalities John Hockenberry, Leonard Lopate and Jonathan Schwartz. Troubling to many were suggestions Hockenberry was allowed to retire from WNYC rather be fired for his extensively documented actions. The Cut’s damning expose of WNYC’s internal culture and the outcry from the public prompted an apology from Walker.

As of June, 2019, Walker will be out, in what has been termed a mutual decision.

The WNYC affair as well as issues at Minnesota Public RadioWBUR and other organizations should prompt community radio to consider where they are in relationship to civility in the workplace. How we understand it and achieve it are healthy discussions for community radio.

Researcher Lars Andersson explains that workplace civility is composed of behaviors that help preserve mutual respect in the workplace. It goes beyond matters of sexual harassment, bullying and other behaviors, but an understanding that the workplace itself is fundamentally changing. Where the workplace was once a locale where things were always to be neutral, civility understands such notions were never really accurate. People bring values and baggage to the office, and clarity on civility means one navigates to a place of respect for everyone.

Community radio stations nationwide have seen a range of conflicts, from clashes with governance to manager dismissals to volunteers going public about feeling excluded from decisionmaking. Where the old top-down model used to work in many private as well as nonprofit organizations, new expectations regarding transparency and equity are the order of the day. Today, it is up to community media to note these winds of change and set course appropriately.

How can community radio create an inclusive environment? How can stations set a tone that appreciates boundaries and respects individual differences? What qualities can your organization embody that help it fully realize its potential?

Longtime radio host Krista Tippett says, “Somehow we used to be able to pretend that we could separate these spheres out, but I think any leader of an organization now has to take in and acknowledge that people are coming to work, feeling all the feelings, having all the reactions around the things that are happening in public life now.”

It is key to understand civility is a shared responsibility, and not as elusive to define. While every community radio station is different, the principles of civility and fairness are in many ways universal. Intimidation, bullying and other actions have no place in our environments. On a smaller scale, courtesy, respect and listening should also be prioritized.

These are not simple moral matters, but business ones. Studies indicateproblems like bullying, for example, result in high absenteeism, reduced productivity, staff turnover and extra health care costs. The costs of lawsuits over abuse are into the hundreds of millions of dollars nationwide.

Agreements on civility need to be straightforward and clear. Consider Google’s new rules, issued last year after public rows. They define and outline what behavior is considered uncivil, and the penalties for same. While many a community radio station has its ‘but if’ or ‘what about’ contrarian undertones, shifting sands may encourage everyone to set policy not to protect outliers and abusive behavior, but to make the space one all want to come to.

NFCB member stations have a variety of tools, including policy templates, handbooks and other materials in the Solution Center, an on-demand knowledgebase for community radio. In addition, NFCB’s webinars have offered station leaders guidance on addressing harassment at stations, among other topics. Not a current member? You can join today.

At the 2019 Community Media Conference, sessions on leading through resistance and consensus decisionmaking are among those to help you through new challenges. Learn more here.

Share

Leave a Reply